The HTC One has received a good deal of accolades since its debut, and for good reason. This sexy 4.7-inch handset not only packs a full HD display and impressive dual speakers, but an IR blaster to control your TV. Add to that HTC's slick Sense 5.0 Android overlay and AT&T's fast 4G LTE speeds, and you've got a contender for the title of best smartphone around.
If you're looking for the best-looking Android phone on the market, look no further than the HTC One. Sporting a sleek industrial design, the One's metal chassis takes 200 minutes to machine-cut before it moves down the assembly line. HTC uses a process called zero-gap injection molding that combines the One's aluminum front and back with its polycarbonate sides, top and bottom to create a handset that feels impressively solid. To get that feel, however, HTC made the One's battery unremovable and excluded a microSD card slot.
From its chamfered edges and spun-metal volume rocker to the etched antennas on the handset's back panel, the HTC One exudes elegance. On the phone's top edge are its combination power button/IR blaster for use with its Sense TV app (more on that later) and 3.5mm headphone jack. The right hosts the aforementioned volume rocker, which was a bit too flush with the chassis for our liking. The left edge has a micro SIM card slot, while the bottom edge houses the phone's microUSB port.
Unlike Samsung's Galaxy S4 and LG's Optimus G Pro, which feature the traditional Android Back, Home and Menu buttons, the HTC One only offers Back and Home buttons, between which is an HTC logo. Users access menus via in-app buttons, which we prefer to the Galaxy S4's physical menu button. We weren't fans of the One's button setup at first, as we found ourselves pressing the HTC logo to access the One's home screen. But it grew on us over time.
Measuring 5.4 x 2.7 x 0.37 inches and weighing 5.1 ounces, the 4.7-inch HTC One is a bit larger and heavier than the 5-inch Galaxy S4, which measures 5.31 x 2.7 x 0.25 inches and weighs 4.6 ounces. The difference in length between the two handsets is a result of the One's dual front-mounted speakers, while the weight delta comes from HTC's decision to use a metal chassis rather than plastic. The 5.5-inch Optimus G Pro, meanwhile, tips the scales at 6.2 ounces and measures 5.8 x 3 x 0.37 inches.
The HTC One's 4.7-inch 1920 x 1080 Super LCD 3 display offers stunning visuals. With a staggering 468 pixels per inch, text on sites such as NYTimes.com and Laptopmag.com looked razor-sharp, while images looked incredibly crisp, even when zoomed all the way in.
Video looked equally stunning, as illustrated by a trailer for the film "Pacific Rim." The neon blues and greens comprising the mechanized cockpit of the movie's massive robots nearly seared our retinas, while details like the fine lines between the machines' armor plating were clearly visible.
The One's screen measured an impressive 433 lux on our brightness meter, which means you'll be able to use this smartphone in direct sunlight. By comparison, the smartphone category average is 300 lux, while the Galaxy S4 registered 446 lux. Still, Apple's iPhone 5 dominates with a sky- high brightness rating of 525 lux.
With a pair of front-mounted speakers, which HTC refers to as BoomSound, the One is in a class all its own. While watching the aforementioned "Pacific Rim" trailer, the sound of giant robots and monsters crushing buildings -- and each other -- sounded almost as good coming from the One's speakers as it did our headphones.
While listening to The Smashing Pumpkins' "1979," we were impressed by how crisp Billy Corgan's voice sounded. When we switched on the Beats Audio setting, the audio sounded even richer and much more even.
HTC revamped its Sense interface for the HTC One, giving the Android overlay a completely new look. Running on top of Jelly Bean 4.1.2, Sense 5.0 includes an intriguing new BlinkFeed feature. Serving as one of the One's home screens, BlinkFeed provides a steady flow of updates from a variety of sources, ranging from social media to your favorite celebrity gossip sites, all presented in a series of panels reminiscent of Microsoft's Windows Phone Live Tile interface.
BlinkFeed's setup wizard lets you choose from a wide range of news sources, including the Associated Press, The Huffington Post, ESPN and Engadget. You can also choose from multiple categories, such as Business, Technology, Politics, etc. Social media options include Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Above the news updates, BlinkFeed displays a large clock, your next appointment and the current weather conditions. While the feature is useful, we do wish HTC had included an email widget at the top of the feed.
If BlinkFeed is too much for you, or you just don't want to be bombarded with information as soon as you unlock your phone, you can relegate the feature to a secondary home screen and replace it with a more traditional home screen layout.
Across the bottom of the standard home screen are persistent Phone, Message, Apps Menu, Browser and Camera buttons. Above them are shortcuts to the Mail, Calendar and Play Store apps and AT&T apps folder. The apps menu has a cleaner look than most Android phones, and lets you view apps in either a 3 x 4 or 4 x 5 grid. Unfortunately, the shortcuts for the Play Store and search and settings menus are hidden until you scroll all the way to the top of the apps menu.
The HTC One's notification drawer is fairly spartan when compared with the Samsung Galaxy S4's. Whereas the One's drawer gives you a toggle for the phone's Power Saver function and a Settings shortcut, the S4's lets you control a wide array of functions, including display brightness, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, screen rotate, Multi Window Mode and more.
Where the One trumps the S4 is in how it displays recent apps. Instead of having to scroll through a vertical list, the One lets you see all of your open apps laid out in a 3 x 3 list. You double-press the Home button to open the recent apps menu, and long-pressing the Home button launches Google Now.
Smartphone makers know you're using your handset while watching TV, which is why more and more devices feature IR blasters. But while Samsung embedded the S4's IR blasters next to the power button, HTC took a more novel approach, turning the power button itself into the IR Blaster. Using the included Sense TV app (which uses Peel's technology), HTC One users can control everything from their TV to their Blu-ray player and stereo system. Setup is easy and straightforward. At most, you'll have to know what your cable or satellite provider is and what model TV you own.
Once you're set up, you can browse upcoming shows, search On Demand content and access recorded content on your DVR. You can also learn more about shows and share what you're watching via the options menu, represented by three dots. With the exception of being able to find buttons by feel, the remote feature is just as easy to use as your regular clicker and includes a number pad, channel and volume buttons and even DVR play, pause, fast forward and rewind buttons.
Typing on the HTC One's virtual keyboard felt natural, resulting in just a handful of typos when writing emails or sending text messages. We appreciated the slight amount of haptic feedback, as well as the predictive text function that provides you with suggestions for words just above the keyboard. The One's Trace option lets you drag your finger across letters to spell out entire words and worked well even when trying to type rather quickly.
Under the HTC One's metal chassis is a 1.7-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor and 2GB of RAM, resulting in one of the fastest handsets on the planet. Games such as "Jetpack JoyRide" and "Super Monsters Ate My Condo" ran without so much as a hint of slowdown, and apps opened and closed in the blink of an eye.
On the Quadrant benchmark, which measures a phone's CPU, graphics and I/O performance, the One clocked an impressive score of 12,706. That's far better than the category average of 3,899. The Galaxy S4, with its quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM, registered 11,308, while the LG Optimus G Pro scored 12,075.
The One's graphics performance was equally impressive. On the An3DBench graphics test, the One scored 7,716. That's better than the category average of 7,245, as well as the Optimus G Pro's 7,556 and the Galaxy S4's 7,570.
However, other benchmarks paint a murkier picture. On Geekbench, the Galaxy S4's score of 3,242 was nearly 500 points higher than the HTC One's score of 2,771. On the 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme benchmark, the S4 pulled slightly ahead with a score of 6,765 to the HTC One's 6,251.
Our HTC One came with 32GB of onboard storage for $199 with a two-year contract through AT&T. If that's not enough space for you, though, you can opt for a 64GB version for $299 on contract.
Camera and camcorder
HTC has seemingly exited the megapixel arms race. Instead, the company has introduced its own Ultrapixel camera. Though a marketing term, the camera offers a large image sensor and an f/2.0 aperture lens to capture 300 percent more light, which should help you capture quality images in low-light settings. For instance, a shot indoors of a painting taken in near- darkness came out clear, while the S4's image was barely visible.
Outdoor shots we took in sunlight looked good, too. An image of a flowering tulip garden looked exquisite, creating a sea of bold oranges, reds, yellows and greens. The camera's Panorama Mode worked well, stitching photos together without leaving any unsightly seams. However, the One's 4-megapixel images aren't as detailed as the S4's, especially when you zoom in.
A 1080p video shot using the rear-facing camera looked bright and delivered smooth action. Details were easily visible with the video paused. We only noticed a slight hiccup when the camera was trying to focus at the beginning of the video.
The One's 2-megapixel front-facing shooter captured clear images. Details, such as facial wrinkles, were easily visible.
The HTC One's Zoe feature lets you capture 20 still photo frames along with 3 seconds of video The camera starts shooting a second before you press the Zoe button and stops 2 seconds after you press stop so you're less likely to miss any special moments. HTC wants users to share their Zoes online as part of an HTC-only social network via an online portal (zoeshare.htc.com).
Unfortunately, Zoes didn't always work as advertised. HTC says the feature is supposed to let you create a Sequence shot, which combines all of the images in the Zoe to give you an action shot of an object or person moving across the frame. In our testing, however, the software rarely compiled our images correctly, or it supplied an error message saying there weren't enough frames to make a Sequence shot.
For a feature that's supposed to be social-friendly, Zoe certainly has a lot of limitations. Your friends and family can't view your Zoes on Facebook or Twitter, but instead will have to go to the Zoe website.
In addition to the standard set of Android apps, AT&T loaded the One with a variety of carrier-specific apps. AT&T Ready2Go helps you set up your One from your computer, while myAT&T provides information on your AT&T account. AT&T FamilyMap gives you the option of locating your family members using their devices' GPS signals and AT&T DriveMode can send auto-replies to text messages, emails or calls with a prewritten message explaining that you are driving. The app can also be set to open whenever you're traveling faster than 25 miles per hour.
AT&T also included its Mobile TV app on the One, which allows you to stream live TV, as well as on-demand movies. Rounding out the selection are the company's AT&T Navigator, AT&T Smart Wi-Fi and AT&T locker apps. Additional third-party apps loaded on the HTC One include Amazon Kindle, SoundHound, TuneIn Radio and YPMobile.
4G LTE and Web browsing
AT&T offers 4G LTE in 183 markets, putting it in second place in the U.S. behind Verizon's 486 markets. Web speeds over AT&T's network were relatively speedy in Manhattan, though they dipped depending on our location. Inside our office, we saw average download speeds of 12 Mbps and average uploads of 3.5 Mbps. When we moved to a nearby park, however, Web speeds plummeted, with downloads averaging 1.9 Mbps and uploads averaging 5.7 Mbps.
Websites loaded quickly in our first location, with NYTimes.com's mobile site taking 2.8 seconds and ESPN.com's mobile site loading in 3.6 seconds. The image-heavy Laptopmag.com took 12.1 seconds.
The AT&T version of the HTC One's stock browser comes with a toolbar that allows users to share websites to Facebook, like or tweet them or share them via email, text or Bluetooth. We suggest using the cleaner Chrome browser.
Battery life and call quality
Over AT&T's LTE network, the HTC One's 2,300 mAh battery lasted 5 hours and 55 minutes on our LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing with the display set to 40 percent brightness. That's slightly better than the Samsung Galaxy S4, which lasted 5:49 on Sprint's 4G network, but a bit worse than the category average of 6 hours. The LG Optimus G Pro, meanwhile, lasted 6:49, though that test was performed on AT&T's 3G network.
When we turned on Power Saver Mode, which throttles the phone's CPU, reduces the display's brightness, turns off haptic feedback and kills its data connection when the display is off, the One's battery life saw a modest increase to 6:20. A similar setting for the Galaxy S4 was only able to increase its battery life to 6:05. Unlike the S4, however, the HTC One's battery is not removable. If you're concerned about battery life, we'd suggest picking up the just-released mophie juice pack case for the One.
Call quality over AT&T's voice network was loud and static-free. Callers using both landlines and cellphones said the One offered a clean voice experience on their ends of the lines.
The HTC One is a truly spectacular piece of hardware. This smartphone's display is gorgeous and its dual front speakers are worlds ahead of the competition. HTC has also stepped it up in a big way with its Sense 5.0 software, bringing users' news and social updates right to the home screen. The One's built-in IR blaster for controlling your TV is just icing on the proverbial cake. Still, the One's battery life could be better, and the Ultrapixel camera isn't as sharp as the Galaxy S4's. We also wish AT&T went lighter on the apps. Overall, though, if you're looking for a new handset, you'll absolutely love the HTC One.